In Puerto Rico, there is always something about empanadas (which we call pastelillos) that bring people together. It may be the delicious variety of flavors available, the way they can make our hands shiny and delicious… or the fact that most places that offer them also sell ice-cold Medalla Light beer. Hey, we like having a good time, and good flavors can only make those times gooder… err better… whatever. Don’t judge!
In reality, empanadas are pretty much the most easily-accessible items on the island, with small kiosks serving them just across the street, and pretty much every home having a box of Kikuet in the freezer for the occasional snack. Of course, this brings with it a great variety of flavors and tastes for the dough and the stuffing itself! There are spots like La Parada de Los Surfers in Isabela, which translates as “The Surfer’s Stop”, that exist just minutes away from the beach, enticing surfers to a cold beer, and a variety of meat and seafood empanadas.
Now that I live in the south (hey North Carolina is the south… ok? shush) I can liken the empanada war to the art of barbecue, everyone makes it in different ways and swears by their way as being the only right way to do it. See, most of South America bakes their empanadas, while most of the Caribbean fries them.
So, let’s get one thing straight… Puerto Rican empanadas are fried, not baked. They are not meant to be healthy… ok? Also, in Puerto Rico, the difference between pastelillos and empanadas is that the former has fork-pressed corners, and the latter uses a thicker dough and the edges are folded over (but still fried… nobody is going to weigh in after these).
So… they’re different, ok? OK! Glad we got that out of the way.Vamo’ a cocinar!
We’re starting off with the Pizza Empanada. Why? Because it’s the epitome of every Puerto Rican kid’s childhood. Almost every school has an empanada kiosk right down the street. Elizabeth likes to tell us that in middle school, the empanada vendors would come to her school fence with a soda cooler and a cardboard box full of pizza empanadas and sell them to students through the steel rails. I was lucky enough to have these for sale at the snack concession inside his school. Gretchen, on the other hand, would visit Willy’s Quik Stop on an almost daily basis for her fix of Pizza Empanadas… they’re just that good!
To try this Spanglish favorite, you will need empanada tortillas, which are sometimes also called plantillas. Here is where it could get tricky. These tortillas are not the room temperature flour tortillas found in latin food aisle. These are typically found in the frozen food section of a hispanic or international food supermarket. The tortillas are much flakier than your typical flour tortillas, which makes the pizza empanadas perfect for frying. Common brands are Kikuet and La Fe.
You will also need pizza fixings, such as pizza sauce and shredded cheese. If you are feeling adventurous you can even add some pepperoni pieces inside, or anything else that you typically like in your pizza.
After you have all your materials ready, build your empanadas one by one by adding sauce and cheese to the center, then sealing the edges.
As I mentioned earlier, the key part of calling this a pastelillo is the fact that the borders are sealed with a fork, and not rolled over. Given this, we recommend wetting the edges a bit with your fingers such that the dough adheres better to itself when pressed to be sealed. Once the edges are wet, press the edges with your fingers to get each side stuck together, and then use any ordinary metal fork (or use plastic and be very upset) to repress the edges. For best results, press an entire side all the way around, then repeat on the other side.
Throw a few of these in about two or three inches of oil at deep frying temperature and excitedly hop on one foot until these are golden brown and ready to eat! Actually, you’ll probably want to wait a few minutes for these cool down. We’ve all burnt our palates more times than we can remember with these babies.
This is a fantastic quick recipe for weeknights and one kids will surely love (we sure loved them!)
- 8 Empanada Tortillas (Kikuet or La Fe)
- 8 Tbsp Pizza Sauce
- 2 Cups Shredded Mozzarella and Provolone Mix
- 2 Cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese Mix
- Bring frozen tortillas to room temperature.
- Add 1 tablespoon of pizza sauce to the inner half of the tortilla. Make sure to leave at least a one inch border all around the tortilla without sauce.
- Add 1/4 cup of the mozzarella and provolone blend, and 1/4 cup of the cheddar cheese to the inner half of the tortilla.
- Wet a clean finger and spread water around the entire edges of the tortilla (this makes it stick together better).
- Fold over half of the tortilla and press the edges firmly to seal the empanada
- Take the top of a fork tine and press along the edges of the half circle (this is what makes it an authentic Puerto Rican pastelillo)
- Fry the empanada at 375F for about 2-3 minutes each side or until golden brown.
- Drain the empanada on a paper towel and wait at least 3-4 minutes until it is cool enough to eat (or prepare to be burned)